NEETs barriers and employer perceptions

NEET is a catch-all term that pigeonholes young people with a diverse range of barriers to employment (Rüdiger, 2012). Maguire (2015) identified the difficulties in developing effective policy to address the NEET issue due to the lack of clarity in defining this group. This is also found to be an issue in Exploring the diversity of NEETs (Eurofound, 2016), although this report also suggested that the term has helped raise awareness of the issue. 


The term was first coined by New Labour in the 1990s to classify 16-18-year-olds who disappeared from Careers Services records, it was seen as an improvement on the original classification, ‘Status Zero’ (MacDonald and Shildrick, 2011; Istance, Rees and Williamson, 1994). Subsequently it has been adopted across many countries and applied to young people from 15-29 (Elder, 2015). Differences on how the term is applied, and changes implemented by different governments, both in the UK and around the world, also cause complications on identifying the specific needs within this group.


A recent government publication defined NEETs only in terms of having engaged or not engaged with education, employment or training within a fixed period, and identified their characteristics solely on academic background, gender and ethnicity (DfE, 2018C). MacDonald and Shildrick (2011), adapted Coles et al. (2010) research to produce a list of proposed factors that could indicate an individual at risk of becoming NEET. 

                                                                      MacDonald and Shildrick (2011)

The same, or similar, have been identified by Widdowson (2018), Buzzeo et al. (2016), Hutchinson and Kettlewell (2015), Maguire (2015), Simmons, Thompson and Russell (2014) and Spielhofer et al. (2008). While the list identifies a range of the common issues that can result in an individual becoming NEET Maguire (2015) warned that others do not meet any of these, and as such are at risk of becoming invisible.


Often one factor indicating a risk of becoming NEET can bring others into play. Goldie, Hull and Sims (2016) found that 67% of those at risk of becoming NEET in Newcastle had engaged with children’s Social Care. Low academic achievement, as mentioned above, is a common characteristic amongst care leavers (Jackson and Cameron, 2012), while Jackson (In: Abrams, Christian and Gordon, 2007) reported that care leavers make up nearly half of young offenders. That said, Bäckman et al. (2014) found a majority of youths committing crime are in work and not classed as NEET, though their actions risk them moving from employed to NEET if the crime results in a custodial sentence. Byng et al. (2015), in an article on suicide attempts among young offenders, also identified that this group are at an increased risk of homelessness, unemployment and mental illness, all identified as factors indicating a risk of becoming NEET. 


Simmons and Thompson (2013), Bysshe et al. (2008) and Yates and Payne (2007) described how the term implies a deficit in the individual, that they are ‘NOT’ doing something, but fails to address why. Maguire (2015) highlights how the term could lead to stereotyping young people, such as mainstream media’s portrayal of NEETs as ‘feral youth’ (Butler, 2018; Gillespie, 2018; Sergeant, 2009) 


Yates and Payne (2007) suggested that NEETs fall into three subgroups: 


  • Transitional - those temporarily NEET but expected to move on with limited support.
  • Complicated - those with significant barriers hindering progression.
  • Economically Inactive – those, such as young parents, or with significant health issues, where personal circumstances prevent them from moving from this group. 


While it is acknowledged that NEET has negative connotations, it is a recognised term. As such, for the purpose of the research undertaken for this dissertation it will be the term used when referring to this diverse group. 


As noted previously, apprenticeships are seen as the accepted route into construction. Fuller and Unwin (2017) proposed that apprenticeships support social mobility, and as such provide a progression from being NEET. That said, information produced by the government for 2016/17 showed that 46% of current apprenticeships went to over 25s, and 47% were at advanced, or higher, levels (Powell, 2018), thus unlikely to be accessible to many NEETs. 


At the time of writing there were 45 reformed apprenticeship standards approved, or under development within construction at Level 2 (IfA, 2018). None stipulate academic requirements, though some indicate these can be determined by the employer. This suggests that, although a young person may not have achieved through their compulsory education, lack of qualifications should not be a barrier to apprenticeships.  That said Buzzeo et al.(2016) concluded that qualifications can be used by employers in order to sift applicants, with Rüdiger (2013) identifying grades as the most common selection criteria when sorting applications.


Buzzeo et al. (2016) identified a number of reasons why apprenticeships may not be suitable for some NEETs. Both the previous framework apprenticeships and the reformed apprenticeship standards contain a requirement for off-the-job training and/or qualifications. They suggested the that some NEETs may equate off-the-job training as a return to education.  Previous negative experience within mainstream education, for example exclusion (including self-exclusion), underachievement in qualifications, bullying, or being unable to complete due to external issues, may result in some NEETs rejecting an apprenticeship for fear of repeating their experiences.


Research by BIS (2013) identified a negative attitude to education, linked to behaviour and attendance issues, acted as a barrier to learning, resulting in low, or no, achievement. Low academic achievement is identified as a common characteristic within the NEET cohort (DfE, 2018c).  Maguire (2015) suggested that negative views on education, and low performance, are more prevalent with NEETs. As such, the academic requirements, including maths and English in apprenticeships, could present a barrier to some. 


Financial issues are often cited as a barrier to NEETs accessing apprenticeships, (Fuller and Unwin, 2017; Buzzeo et al., 2016; Connell-Smith, 2015; BIS, 2013). They suggest that the minimum rate of pay for apprentices, £3.70 per hour (, 2018), prevents NEETs taking up opportunities as often they are supporting themselves, without additional financial support necessary to be able to survive on this wage. This issue was considered in an article in The Independent (Kingstone, 2017). It concluded that, without parental support, undertaking an apprenticeship is not financially viable for a young person This article, in addition to the financial concerns, highlighted areas such as low confidence, mental health, lack of a permanent address and financial pressures as barriers for NEETs securing apprenticeships.


A report by the Young Women’s Trust (YWT) addressed a range of issues that are more likely to affect young women. This included data suggesting that women are paid less on average than men on apprenticeships, £6.67 compared to £7.25 (YWT, 2017b). It also identified that 25% of young women who are NEET are also single parents (YWT, 2017a) and may have to consider childcare costs, likely to be unaffordable on an apprentice wage.


Another financial issue, potentially preventing a NEET accepting a low paid role, is pressure within their family. A young person’s move into employment may impact the benefits claimed by a family member that are not be compensated by the wage. This may result in the young person rejecting employment in order to protect another family member’s benefits (BIS, 2013).


Marriot and Moore (2014) highlight the role of parental influence in choosing to undertake an apprenticeship. A care leaver, or homeless individual, may not have access to this guidance, and thus not identify apprenticeships as a route away from being NEET. The Edge Foundation (2018) identified parents and teachers as the biggest influencing factors for career choice. 


Alternative guidance support may be available through schools’ careers counsellors, and David (2014) highlighted the importance of this in choosing a career. A report by Gracey and Kelly (2010), quoted a 2008 Skills Commission’s inquiry recommendation that quality information, advice and guidance (IAG) be provided from the age of 14. Chevin (2014) identified the need to improve IAG in relation to construction, suggesting the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) and CITB work together to explore how this can be achieved. That said, an Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) report, ‘Going in the right Direction?’ (Ofsted, 2012) stated that only 20% of schools inspected were providing sufficient careers information. In terms of NEETs, even where a school has been providing sufficient information, an excluded individual may not have access to this support.


Goldman-Mellor et al. (2016) found that at age 18 16.3% of NEETs reported cannabis dependence as opposed to 2.7% non-NEET, while 17.7% reported alcohol dependence compared to 12.1% of non-NEETs. While drug/alcohol dependency would be an issue in most roles, it is especially relevant to construction, and would be a major barrier for a NEET entering the industry. This would appear to be one barrier that cannot be overcome in the short term, although the possibility of employment once ‘clean’ may encourage an individual to seek help.


This has identified some of the barriers face in entering the construction industry, the next section considers the barriers employers face in respect to engaging with them.

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